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Education Games Idle

Professor Ditches Grades For XP System 311

Posted by samzenpus
from the exam-quest dept.
schliz writes "Like in World of Warcraft, students of Indiana University's game design classes start as Level 1 avatars with 0 XP, and progress by completing quests solo, as guilds, or in 'pick up groups.' Course coordinator Lee Sheldon says students are responding with 'far greater enthusiasm,' and many specifics of game design could also be directly applied to the workforce. These included: clearly defining goals for workers; providing incremental rewards; and balancing effort and reward."

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Professor Ditches Grades For XP System

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  • by SharpFang (651121) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:02AM (#31521012) Homepage Journal

    ...against boredom of grinding.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:07AM (#31521040)

    XP grinding their degree will thoroughly prepare them for the tedium of working on software design, though.

  • by cerberusss (660701) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:09AM (#31521066) Homepage Journal

    Course coordinator Lee Sheldon says students are responding with 'far greater enthusiasm,'

    It's a documented fact that any change brings about a temporary boost in motivation. One should be careful with making generic assumptions based on this change.

    Let me make an analogy we all understand. When you meet a girl and she wears these big unsexy undies, you don't really care because she'll look great to you anyway. When she becomes your wife, you'll suggest sexy, minimalistic underwear. And sooner or later, even that won't help.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:23AM (#31521184)

    When she becomes your wife, you'll suggest sexy, minimalistic underwear. And sooner or later, even that won't help.

    Maybe you should be spending more time with your wife, and less time posting on Slashdot...

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:37AM (#31521292)
    So will employing a foreigner to do it for them.

    They'll learn just how expendable they are, and how easy it is to outsource their skills from a nation of cheaper labour.
  • by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:43AM (#31521368) Homepage Journal

    This is almost identical to management by objective, where every quarter you're given some tasks to complete, and your quarterly bonus depends upon how many you get done. Where I work, the tasks include getting certified in something new, writing white papers, or performing "health checks" for our customers' data centers.

  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:45AM (#31521390) Homepage
    I hate systems that count attendance against you... Why should I be forced to go to class if I otherwise know or can learn the material externally? Sure, some interactive courses where you need to prove a skill (such as labs) should count attendance, but why should a lecture hold that requirement? If I can ace all the tests, why should I deserve to not get an A in the course (And this has happened to me, because I got too bored in the lectures and stopped going, but I understood the material well enough to get a 98% average on the 3 exams)? I actually prefer counting attendance and homework as "extra credit" (I had a professor once who would count all homework and attendance, but applied it towards raising one test result by up to 15%. So if you got 98%, 95% and 80% on the 3 tests, but had perfect attendance and homework, the final test (since it was the lowest) would be raised to a 95%. But if you did no homework and never attended class and you got all 100%'s on the exams, you'd get a 100% for the course)... I typically find that professors whom count attendance for a non-interactive subject typically just like to hear themselves speak (and hence have to require attendance, because there's no other 'real' incentive to go to class). Sure, there are plenty that are good and require attendance, but I've never had one as a teacher...
  • by bkr1_2k (237627) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:46AM (#31521406)

    Let me make an analogy we all understand. When you meet a girl and she wears these big unsexy undies, you don't really care because she'll look great to you anyway. When she becomes your wife, you'll suggest sexy, minimalistic underwear. And sooner or later, even that won't help.

    Most women wear the sexy panties when they are starting to date and switch to the "unsexy" panties after they've already bagged the person they were trying to win over. If you wait until you're already married to suggest the "sexy, minimalistic underwear" you're either making the wrong suggestions (no underwear is a much better suggestion in my opinion) or it's already too late. If "sooner or later, even that won't help" your relationship has much bigger issues.

  • Economist Article (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2010 @08:59AM (#31521524)

    I remember reading an article in the Economist about how young people coming through the education system (in the UK) are becoming increasingly difficult to integrate into the workforce.

    That article pointed out that the problems with such integration are precisely the "benefits" espoused by the summary above. Namely that new graduates expect ridiculously elaborate and well-defined goals, don't work very hard without specific incentives, have poor social skills and in general lack initiative.

    The article (which as a former manager I agree with) made the point that that these individuals are increasingly difficult to manage and motivate. As a manager, I shouldn't have to define an intricate XP based points system to keep my staff interested. I think it is a consequence of TV-led, internet-supercharged instant gratification culture that the notion of short or medium term effort for long term gains is drifting into obscurity.

    You don't work hard on assignment X because I'll give you some XP, or even a cash voucher or something. You work hard because you take some pride in both yourself and your work and at the prospect of getting promoted.

    Don't want to get promoted, don't want to work hard, don't really want to be at work anyway? Then fuck off out of my team and let me employ someone who does!

  • by thesandtiger (819476) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:04AM (#31521572)

    I agree that it shouldn't be mandatory - in classes I teach I make it clear that attendance is optional, but woe betide anyone asking for help/an extra point because they're on the cusp/s mske-up exam if they didn't have decent attendance (extremely special circumstances excluded, of course). The extra credit potential for my courses comes in the form of quizzes, given out randomly throughout the term, and also in the form of 2-3 questions per exam that are based on class discussions and not from the text or any outside resource. It seems to be working - compared to my peers, I tend to have significantly higher attendance numbers.

    One thing I have noticed over the years is that the students who make a habit of attending class regularly are the ones who tend to actually learn the material as opposed to just being able to puke it back for a test and then promptly forget it. I'm sure much of this is due to those students applying themselves more to their studies, but also I am sure there is a component of the regularity of the experience of class attendance forming stronger memories and associations. I know in my case I can still remember, vividly, graphs, charts and maps for a course on Islamic culture I took nearly 15 years ago, despite having never since paying much attention to it; I also know that there are entire sections of basic chem and biology that have flown right out of my mind, even though I aced those courses without attending any lectures.

  • by Zen-Mind (699854) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:13AM (#31521660)
    From my school experience, something similar is already happening. Most of us, geeks of all kinds, have been forced to do team assignments with less than qualified people; we had the choice of either working twice as hard to get the grade WE deserve or do our fair part and end-up with the grade THEY deserve. In the end, most of us chose the first path and were not even paid for it :-/.
  • Is that so bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:23AM (#31521782)
    If I've got a fourth grader, I give him a math test on memorization of the multiplication tables. He turns it in with a quarter of the problems wrong, he gets a D. Then a month later, I give him a test on multiplying double-digit numbers. He gets a quarter of the problems wrong, he gets a D. Then I give him a test on division, three-digit numbers divided by one digit. He gets a D.

    This kid leaves the fourth grade, and he pretty much forgets the little that he did learn in my class. He spends most of the next year playing catch-up.

    Let me suggest the curriculum for a fourth grader's math assignments. I'm going to give this kid a test on the multiplication tables, but I'm going to give it a week earlier than the other teacher did. If this kid gets a quarter of the problems wrong, then he has to respawn and go fight the boss aga-- er, he has to take another multiplication tables test a week later. He keeps taking one of those tests once a week until he gets at least a 90% on it, even if the other kids have moved on to start taking other tests.

    If this kid can't get ever get a 90% on these tables, he gets an F in math for the semester. If he passes the tables test, his grade levels up to a D.

    Then I give this kid a test on double-digit multiplication. He has to take it again and again until he gets a 90% on the test. When he does, he levels up to a C in math for the semester. This might take him so long that he doesn't ever really get to the long division test, although I'll still give him some assignments to pick up on the basics of it.

    The kid in the first example never really got a strong handle on any of the subjects I taught. The second kid knows his expletive'ing multiplication tables and has a good handle on multiplying numbers, even if he never got a good shot at the later stuff. The first kid got a D in math, the second kid got a C. Which kid do you think knows more about math?

    Alternatively, I give one student that tables test, and he gets an A on the first try, a week earlier than the others. I tell this kid, okay, you can beta test the new dungeon that the devs are working on-- er, you can start looking ahead at some of the new material. Or maybe you can actually only get to a B in this class by doing the three main quests, so if you want to get to an A, you'll have to do at least a few side quests. Here, why don't you solve the puzzles in this beginner's programming book, since it's tangentially related to math? Or you could grind the goblins in this basic accounting sheet, teaching you to balance a checkbook?

    I'm sure the actual logistics of this method would require a bit of work, but I'd like to see it tried out in practice once.
  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:28AM (#31521846) Homepage

    I don't care that Newton went through 20 pages of integrals to discover that KE == 1/2mv^2.

    Actually, I disagree with you there... I think it's VERY important to understand WHERE those equations come from and how to derive them (Especially for an engineer). If you don't know the roots of it, how can you ever know its limitations? I'll give you an example... You know that F=ma. But why should you need to know how it's derived? Well, it's derived from F= d(mv)/dt... So F=ma is only true if mass is constant with respect to time (So it doesn't work in cases of a rocket, airplane, top fuel dragster, etc)... That's easily seen from the derivation, but not trivial to see from dimensional analysis or the F=ma question itself. Without understanding the derivation, how can you ever hope to UNDERSTAND the equation? Sure, you can use it, but then how can you possibly KNOW if you pick the right one? And especially in the case of engineering, where people's lives can literally be at stake when choosing an equation, I sure as hell hope you understand the equation and not just know how to use it...

  • by johnlcallaway (165670) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @09:39AM (#31521952)
    If someone doesn't think their wife looks great, whether dressed in business attire, sexy nightware, or granny panties, then they should get a new wife. Or fall in love with the one they have.

    My wife is ALWAYS the most beautiful woman in the world, and I never tire of looking at her. No matter what she is wearing. And she is almost 50.

    Of course, she is also the only woman I'm allowed to have sex with. So I guess as long as my wife is having sex with me on a regular basis, she will continue to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

    Nahhh...she always will because I just love her.

    And if you don't understand that, you're not really in love....
  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @10:37AM (#31522720) Homepage

    Your question assumes that the course in question is attended mostly by students whose major/course of study would be aided by that knowledge. If, on the other hand, students are in that class to fill some fucking "core requirement", then give them the tools they need to pass the exam and leave them the hell alone.

    Well, I agree, sort of. There's a reason that "core requirements" exist. I sure as hell hope that every educated person knows the basic foundations of physics. When I say the basic foundations, I'm not talking equations. I'm not talking about problem solving. I'm talking about concepts. Everyone should know about equal and opposite reactions. Everyone should know that things don't move unless acted upon by some force. I don't care if people can calculate the amount of time a ball will take to hit the ground if thrown in the air. But I do care if people don't understand that the faster they go, the more energy they have... While I hated taking the core requirements, I do think they serve an important purpose. They give everyone a baseline. What good is a genius physicist, if they can't articulate their thoughts? What good is a literary major who doesn't have some knowledge of social behavior? How can someone expect to be a productive member of society without understanding the BASIC economic principles?

    The problem I think you're alluding to, is two fold. First, the teachers of those "core" classes spend way too much time on the details, and not enough on the concepts. That leads them to treating the students like they are majoring in the subject rather than just learning a background... Second is that those classes tend to be either way to basic, or way to advanced for most students. There's Physics for Poets (REALLY simple), Physics for Engineers (Calculus based, quite in depth on practical matters) and Physics for Physicists (Calculus based, in depth on theoretical matters)... Where's the middle ground that isn't overly simple, but also doesn't focus on application as much as on concept?

  • by nobodylocalhost (1343981) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @10:54AM (#31522950)

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but in the real world those who do nothing just get promoted and manage people with real skills. After all, it makes no business sense to promote programmers to become managers, that's just a waste of talent.

  • by thrawn_aj (1073100) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @11:30AM (#31523348)
    And that artificial distinction between types of physics courses is exactly why people struggle with physics. What you're doing is simply downgrading the meaning of the word "understanding" when you remove essential things like Calculus from it.

    A previous poster complained about derivations. (The rest of this post is directed at him/her, not to the immediate parent before me with whom I agree - for the most part). Well, without understanding where equations come from, haven't you just walked away with a cargo cult understanding of physics? Plug this into that equation and voila, you have a bridge that is probably as shaky as your concepts. A course like Physics for Poets is nothing but a compromise course, because there will always exist a class of people who will refuse to be bothered with "useless" things like mathematics and will demand that the workings of the universe be made comprehensible to them in simple terms that require only a modicum of thought. The very idea that the math and the physical concepts exist separately from each other in meaningful ways is ludicrous. In fact, without the math to derive the real world consequences of a physical idea in a logical way, a book on physics would have no more authority than a religious text. It is the math that makes it different. And the fact that students don't get this is responsible for the scientific illiteracy that plagues our nation today. A scientific explanation of a complex question (such as say, why the sky is blue) without recourse to mathematical analysis (like simply blubbering something about Rayleigh scattering) is only MARGINALLY superior to an answer such as "because God made it so". Because in the end, without the math, you're relying on your faith (in god or the scientist) to pacify (rather than satisfy) your curiosity about the world. The long road from a simple concept like light being an electromagnetic wave (as a first approximation) to the scattering of different colors of light that goes as the fourth power of the frequency can be traveled only in the vehicle that is mathematics. No amount of hand-waving arguments will let you bridge that gap in an intellectually honest way. Sure, you can resign yourself to the fact that some people cannot or will not (or do not wish to) travel that road and simply show them a picture of the final destination. Is that understanding? Or is it a low level faith masquerading as understanding?

    The worst delusion is the one where people who "learn" through pop-sci books feel they "understand" something. To name something is not to understand. It's a delusion borrowed from the humanities and it has no place in the physical sciences. It's a start, but 99% of the work still remains to be done on your part.

    Without deriving an equation yourself (or at the very least seeing it derived), you will NEVER understand (1) the assumptions that went into it and (2) consequently, the domain of its validity. So, the next time you try to use it in a practical situation to say, build something, I can only hope that the thing you build is safer than your general attitude.

    Besides, we're talking about an introductory course on physics. 20 pages of derivations is something you'll see in an advanced course on quantum field theory (if that). If every equation in an intro physics course were rigorously derived, it wouldn't add more than 2 weeks to the course (and perhaps 20 pages TOTAL to your notebook if you scrupulously wrote it all down). But what it would do, in exchange for that minor inconvenience, is give you a level of understanding of the subject that (given the consolidation and refinement of the intervening years) would rival that of Newton himself. Ditto for relativity and Einstein, or quantum theory and Schroedinger.
  • by TaggartAleslayer (840739) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @11:57AM (#31523692)

    It's a two way street, though. A lot of managers are promoted up or hired in and have no idea how to effectively lead. As a manager, I found Individual Development Plans (IDPs) to be more effective and productive than other incentives. By working with your employee to define clear goals other than "Show up, work 8 hours, be better than the worst person on your team and then go home" you may find they aren't all just cogs with no ambition.

    Some of them actually want to work toward something better and by helping them figure out a path of growth within the organization you're doing good by yourself as well as your worker.

  • by nobodylocalhost (1343981) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @12:24PM (#31524046)

    That's how accountants are. They are strictly process based, difficult to deal with, and stick with numbers. The reason why they seem to be good as managers is because they can play number games with metrics easily.

    I am sure they all understand long term forecast keep employees happy is cost efficient. However it doesn't concern them as it doesn't affect their budgeting in any way shape or form. They are in a medium to large size company taking salaries, saving the company money that is difficult to quantify, can't be plotted into charts, and has no direct correlation with their performance get tugged down the bottom of their priority list.

    Although keep an employee for a period is cost efficient, keep them forever is not. In management, it is best to keep people for around 4 years. The reason behind it is because keep employees for more than 5 years has its own cost. Employees demand raises as well as contribution to 401k retirement. On average a new employee will cost the company about 10 grand to bring on board. But, the same employee stays for more than 5 years will cost the company around 30 grand to keep. So at that point it is all about if the employee is worth it or not. So don't be surprised if your work environment suddenly become bad after couple years.

  • by lgw (121541) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @12:34PM (#31524168) Journal

    A university is not a student's employer! They work for you, you don't work for them. When you pay someone a large sum of money to teach you, they should show you a little respect.

  • by Sally Forth (1272800) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @12:41PM (#31524286)
    The problem that I have with core classes is that it seems to be geared towards making up for what was once covered in highschool.

    In elementary school, we should be learning our tools. In highschool, we should be learning how everything fits together. A highschool graduate should know how to write a research paper, how to give a simple speech, how to do basic algebra, and how a bill becomes a law. A highschool graduate should be able to tell you Newton's Laws, balance a chemical equation, and name the primary organs in the body.

    People keep insisting that college is the point at which you specialize, but the typical four-year degree has less than half of its courses actually in your major. My university actually had a mandatory requirement in the first two years for gym class! C'mon, people, we're adults! We should be able to choose whether or not we want to get slammed around the basketball court One More Time!

    Basically, I am not arguing against the idea of core classes. I am arguing against the notion that we must continue to emphasize them through college. A classic core education shouldn't take 14-16 years and you should be able to spend more than 6 months learning how to do what you plan to spend the rest of your life doing.
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @01:03PM (#31524554)

    I think the problem with universities is that education has already become a grind, and this takes the mind-numbing up a notch. The reason why our students are demanding "clear, well-defined goals" in courses is exactly because they want everything in college to have handrails, explicit structure and a transparent input-output conditionals. And it's true that it's easier to get good grades in such a system. But I think it's completely irresponsible to take someone who has made it through such a system as "college-educated". An educated person has learned to operate flexibly in a system where the input-output structures are opaque, and the quality of their product is what matters. (The real world doesn't care if you took "all the right steps" in the process of making something shoddy, so I don't see why college courses should reward it either.)

    While my background is in physics, I now teach courses in philosophy. Now try to imagine applying this XP system to my field! It's not useless; I mean, I do stuff like this already (though I feel dirty about it). I occasionally give quick multiple-choice reading quizzes which make up a tiny portion of the course grade. Students can see "collecting" reading quiz points as XP's. But what really matters to me is that my students reveal an understanding of the issues and are able to have coherent and insightful reactions to these. Maybe a more straightforward way of looking it is this: My students need to be able to horribly embarrass anyone who defends certain dumb ideas, in a wide range of contexts. For example, if my ethics students aren't able to embarrass a smart moral relativist in a conversation, they don't deserve a passing grade for that (small) unit of the course. This objective cannot be divided up into sub-objectives to which you could assign XP's, because there are incredibly many paths for getting to that goal, and for the purpose of grading, I don't care which path they take. It depends on their temperament and talent. I'm not about to impose a structure on how to achieve this goal, and anyone who does is being a terrible educator. Their students will learn to grind out good grades, but... what else? Is it hoped that "incidentally" they will also acquire an understanding of the subject along the way? It seems to me much better to just test their understanding directly, and let them learn how to best match their skills to the available resources so that they achieve that understanding. That's exactly what students should learn in college, and it's also exactly what this XP system circumvents.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @02:19PM (#31525562)
    I know when my son goes to college (if he chooses to) I'll be damned if I'm paying $50k for him to yawn his way through eight different versions of "English for Idiots". Community college, here he comes.

    That truly differentiates the purpose of a University and a Community College.

    Community colleges are basically trade schools with frills. Become a mechanic. Become a nurse. Become a beautician. Teach enough english classes so the mechanics and nurses and beauticians can be literate and communicate with their peers. Teach the math that mechanics and beauticians etc will use.

    Universities are supposed to be for "higher education". Teach people how to be scientists and artists and how to enjoy both. Teach the chemists that there is a world outside the lab. Teach social "scientists" some real scientific techniques.

    Those "core courses" that you rebel against were designed to round out your university education so that you could at least experience something outside your comfort zone and maybe pick up a desire to know more. It's a shame that the core courses are taught by people who actually care about the material and expect you to care, too.

    Yes, if all you want for your son is a trade education so he can have a job, send him to CC. If you want him to have an education, send him to a Uni so he can take a few classes in english that teach him how to enjoy reading some of the classic literature more, maybe an art class so he appreciates what goes into a painting and it's not just a thing hanging on the wall that "looks nice".

    And maybe don't pay the $50k, let him pay for his college himself. He'll appreciate it more.

    And now get off my lawn...

  • by BVis (267028) on Friday March 19, 2010 @10:30AM (#31537048)

    Yes, if all you want for your son is a trade education so he can have a job, send him to CC. If you want him to have an education, send him to a Uni so he can take a few classes in english that teach him how to enjoy reading some of the classic literature more, maybe an art class so he appreciates what goes into a painting and it's not just a thing hanging on the wall that "looks nice".

    The reason we go to college is not to become a 'well rounded' person, we go to college so we can get better paying jobs. And my quibble with core classes is that students have NO CHOICE but to take them, even though they may have ZERO interest in the subject, and taking the class makes them no more marketable after they graduate and start to have to pay back those loans.

    I made the mistake of studying something that interested me, not something that would enable me to get a job. I ended up taking an EMT training class my last semester of college so I could have a job when I graduated. (I got paid less than the current minimum wage. That's right, I had lives in my hands and got $6.75 an hour.) It took me twelve years and a complete career path change before I "made it" into a job that feeds my family and provides me with sufficiently valuable experience that makes me more marketable the longer I work here. (That's the real value in staying in a job, because FSM knows you won't ever get a raise better than the COL increase, IF that, each year. Switching jobs is pretty much the only way to get a raise of any consequence these days.)

    Taking freshman English, a gym class, or a "diversity" class may have been interesting, and I might have even enjoyed them, but paying full university tuition to take them, and not getting squat for the investment, is a waste of money. You can talk about 'well rounded' all you want, that and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee, and lousy coffee at that.

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Friday March 19, 2010 @10:55AM (#31537658) Journal
    Shouldn't such "core requirements" be taught before college though?

    In other words, the education system should ensure that everyone has the basics in all important areas before they are qualified to start an undergraduate course. I think eighteen is a bit late for a Physics major to be learning basic English composition, or an English major to be memorising Newton's laws of motion.

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